We have not lost, until we quit.
Susie Quinn from Torch Can Do, at a group rally last November. The group assembled in summer 2015 to respond to an injection well and frack-waste-handling operation in Torch, Ohio. In the first three quarters of 2015, injection wells in Torch and surrounding Athens County took more fracking wastewater than wells in any other county in Ohio, nearly 3.2 million barrels of fracking waste, according to the Columbus Dispatch.
Interview by Erin Allegro
Q: When did you first notice that the community’s homes, water and air were at risk due to toxics from horizontal hydraulic fracking?
A: On Christmas Eve 2013 I noticed trucks up at the K&H site unloading, and I thought, ‘who works on Christmas Eve? Something strange is going on.’
When the Athens County Fracking Action Network & Appalachia Resist blockaded the entrance to K&H the following February, they brought attention to the fact that there was something there and it was not good.
Last July, (2015), we attended an informational meeting at the library about the toxic frackwaste that K&H Partners LLC was storing and injecting into the ground. I was just shocked. You wouldn’t think that anyone would sneak something toxic and possibly radioactive into your rural neighborhood, but they did. Good neighbors in Torch told us about these meetings.
We had heard before we moved here, that everyone on this end of Torch minds their own business, but if you need help they are the first to come lend a hand. That has proven to be true over the last 20 years. But because of the threat to our air, water and homes, we have gotten to know many good people throughout Torch and beyond.
Q: What were some physical symptoms or events experienced by community members?
A: We’ve had a couple incidents. One foggy Friday morning, about 10:30, I walked outside and smelled an odor like chlorine bleach, very strong. I called Ohio EPA that morning and got an answering machine, so instead of leaving my home with the chlorine odor I stayed home and waited on their call. I turned off the air-conditioner and kept the dog inside. Then we called the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Oil and Gas Division. When the inspector came out, he smelled something as soon as he got out of his truck. He didn’t give a straight answer about what the odor was or from where it was coming. The Ohio EPA didn’t get back to me until about 5 p.m. Even though I had remained inside, the ends of my hair smelled like chlorine by that time and we had been breathing it all day. OEPA said that they would send someone on Monday to reach out to K&H. The odor was gone the next morning.
On another evening my son came in and said, “Mom! It smells like a chemical factory out there.” Sure enough the fumes were in the air so I called a neighbor and she said she smelled it too. It was almost like a cloud that moved through Torch.
I called Phyllis who lives on the opposite side of town to see if she noticed a chemical-like odor. She said that she wasn’t smelling anything or seeing anything. She said she would come over and see what I was talking about. By the time she got here the cloud had moved and there was nothing to see nor smell. On her drive home via the four lane, she started to smell something odd. When she got home the cloud had made it to her house. In the meantime, my husband was driving home from work. He notice a strong odor even with all the windows closed and saw a low-lying cloud that looked like fog, or maybe someone burning something. The wind shifted and the odor was strong in our yard again. I decided to move inside and stop breathing in the fumes. My husband and a few other neighbors have COPD. They have to be careful what they breathe regularly and we would really like to have clean air. We don’t have any way to identify what chemicals are in the air and we’d really like to know for our safety.
Q: What did the city do to notify people of the problems with the chemicals from fracking? What solutions or precautions were advised?
A: They did not advise any solutions. We called the EPA and the health department, but when we met with Chief [Rick] Simmers from Ohio Department of Natural Resources Oil and Gas Division, he told us to call the local fire chief. Chief Simmers wants us to call our fire chief every time we smell a chemical-like odor? Our volunteer fire department does not have the equipment to tell what is causing the odor.
Q: Did you grow up in Appalachia?
A: This area is home for us. I grew up on the river and it was a great place to grow up. We played in the river because we believed it was safe. Our home was down the river from a large factory. My parents had told me at various times to stay out of the water. I remember seeing dead fish on the banks and I thought, ‘OK I don’t think I’m going to go wading in that.’ Other times it was not as obvious why my parents said not to go in the water. My father had times when he couldn’t fish because there was too much mercury in the water and then there was the fishkill. Maple trees in our yard kept us cool and the sand pile beneath it kept us busy. The woods were fun to explore. As adults, we love and appreciate the lush green foliage in summer.
Q: How has this particular issue affected you or your family?
A: There’s differences in how we view fracking and the injected waste. My husband sees it as a job creator and I see it differently. What good is it once there is no clean water to drink? My husband has been very supportive of my involvement, but there’s always going to be interesting debates that raise the blood pressure. Some of the retired people are very concerned because the water has been compromised before by a factory that said it wouldn’t lead to anything harmful. We found out then that big companies do lie.
Q: How has media coverage and help of outside organizations changed the response to the issue?
A: The Athens News, WTAP, Athens Messenger, and The Parkersburg News & Sentinel have been very good to us. They have covered the different protests, community meetings, and have kept up with the topic.
The response has grown thanks to the news keeping up with us and great mentors like ACFAN and the CHEJ. They have helped us learn and raised our awareness that there is a problem. We hope that folks check out what an injection well is and what goes in it. I believe that if we can raise people’s awareness and get that information to them then they will see why we are concerned and hopefully get involved.
Q: What do you want other citizens to know as they move forward in their communities with similar issues with their local environment?
A: They are not alone and if someone offers to help, take them up on their offer. We would like to connect with other injection well groups. There is strength in numbers!
Learn more about this and other work by the grassroots heroes on the front lines of the Green Movement who work with CHEJ by reading our blog and other content on our website.